Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle isn’t exactly rocket science but it’s easy to forget. Essentially it says every action we take is an effort to feel better, either by seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. Avoiding pain usually takes priority and often takes the form of procrastination. We put something off because we perceive it as a source of pain and find something more pleasant to do instead.
When we’re working for someone else, when we aren’t the boss, sometimes that choice is pretty much made for us and procrastination isn’t always an option. Get your work in by the deadline or you’ll get a red mark on your performance review. Meet your sales quota or you won’t get a raise/bonus.
But when we become our own boss, the accountability lines get blurred and the pleasure/pain dynamic shifts. ‘Later’ becomes an option so we avoid the yucky stuff, sales calls, tax returns, writing our marketing material, writing a report for a client, etc, in favour of something more interesting like ‘research’, ‘connecting’ on social media, having a snack or perhaps even a walk on the beach. That works to a point, at least until it’s too late and we either have to do the task because of a real deadline, or we decide it’s no longer important and drop the task altogether.
Either way, the result is the same and we limit our own progress.
So we’re told the answer is to be disciplined, find an accountability partner or promise yourself a reward if you do what needs to be done in the time frame you’ve allowed yourself to do it in. We’ve all tried these and while they do get results at times, these can vary between successful and a total waste of time. The trouble is that none of these tactics really eliminate the current tension between pain and the pleasure and, though the task is getting done, it feels like an absolute chore. The promise of a reward sometimes helps but even then, sometimes the reward doesn’t feel ‘well-deserved’.
The trick then is to hack the pleasure principle and tip the scales in favour of pleasure rather than pain. This post for example has been on my ‘today’ list for about a week now. I’ve done lots of important things in the meantime and a few not so important things yet, despite my promise that it will get done today, it hasn’t happened yet.
When I notice something keeps slipping like that I take a look at what the pain might be that I’m avoiding. Apart from the pain of writing, which actually isn’t that painful for me, it turns out that the pain I’m really avoiding is the possibility of criticism. Yep, I’ve been hung up on the possibility that someone might actually read this far, decide that what I’m saying is a load of crap and then go to the trouble of letting me know, either directly by email or, shock horror, in the comments section here on the blog. Pretty infantile I know but there you go. My cards are on the table.
So knowing what my pain is I can look for potential pleasures to compensate. In writing and publishing this post, there is the possibility that someone might appreciate it, find it useful, tell a friend about it and perhaps even Tweet it to many friends. Maybe those friends will even subscribe for updates so they can be sure to stay up to date with life changing posts such as this. Happy, happy, joy, joy! Now the pendulum swings back in favour of pleasure and the urge to get it done outweighs the urge to put it off.
My invitation to you then is to take a look at your to don’t list, your list of things you’ve been putting off, and to the associated pain in relation to the potential pleasure. Sometimes it might be bit of a struggle to find what that pleasure might be but if you dig far enough you’ll find something. Heck, even just the satisfaction or relief of being able to say it’s done might be enough.
Do that and then make a note of that pleasure alongside the item on your list as a reminder of the upside in getting it done. Now go ahead and experience the pleasure of getting it done!
Load of crap? Useful? Worth sharing? Comments welcome below.
I've been self-employed since I was 19 (and that was quite some time ago) and have owned manufacturing, service and consulting businesses ever since. Every business goes through stages and each stage in each business needs a different strategy to flourish and prosper. I can teach you about the stages and the strategies to shortcut your success.